Complaints to Garfield County Assessor’s Office not just about numbers

John Colson
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Garfield County taxpayers have already begun calling Assessor John Gorman’s office to complain about their 2009 property valuation notices, but not all of the callers have been upset about the rising value of their property.

Instead, Gorman said on Tuesday, some have been angry about the language used on the notices themselves.

The Spanish language, that is.

“These people are [saying], ‘What the hell’s going on? Why are these things printed in Spanish? This is America. You’re discriminating,’ and things like that,” Gorman said. “Some people were really incensed and irate.”

He said he has not personally gotten any of the calls, but has been told that one caller mentioned him by name and threatened him in profane and unprintable terms.

The front side of the valuation forms contain a one-paragraph explanation in Spanish about the reason the notices have been sent out, and where to turn for more information about the assessment process that assigns a taxable value to personal property, or residential or commercial real estate.

In a note to the Post Independent, Gorman pointed out that “the back sides of both sheets sent to each property owner are printed fully and give explanations exclusively in English.”

Deputy Assessor Lisa Warner, who has fielded some of the calls, said her staff typically is prepared for irate callers demanding explanations about the money involved.

“Everybody who calls is treated politely,” she said. “They may not be so polite with us, but we are polite back.”

She said that this year, “Probably one out of every three phone calls we get has a complaint about the Spanish paragraph.” Every caller gets an explanation about the paragraph, a translation, and callers who leave a name and address will receive a postcard in the mail offering further explanation.

“The reality of the situation is that some people are not going to be happy that we did this. But we did. We just thought it was a good idea,” Warner concluded, adding, “I usually love this time of year; I get to meet a lot of nice people.”

But this year, she said, “I’ve actually been pretty shocked by some of the responses.”

Gorman explained that in the mid-1980s the state board of equalization, in response to legal action by a group of Conejos County taxpayers, issued an order to the assessors in eight counties with a certain percentage of Spanish-speakers in their populations, requiring them to print the Spanish paragraph on their valuation notices.

Only counties determined by the U.S. Census to have the requisite number of Spanish-speaking residents are required to do so, and Garfield County is not among them so far, although the percentage of Spanish speakers here has been growing.

Gorman’s office decided to include the Spanish language paragraph, he said, “out of consideration to those Spanish-language taxpayers and homeowners, and because we have the room for it [on the valuation notice forms].”